Saturday, 6 February 2016

Cooking for One, Eating for Too Many

One of the things I've found hardest to get used to now I'm on my own is cooking for one. Even now, a year on, I still often find myself cooking way too much. This isn't a huge problem of course, leftovers always get used up and frequently I deliberately cook more than I need so I can freeze meals for those days when I really don't want to stand in a cold kitchen and chop veg, but I do wonder if I would still have gained weight if I'd mastered the delicate art of cooking for my lonesome.

No matter how small a dish or saucepan or tray I use it always seems to contain such a feeble amount when I measure out a single portion. If I'm hungry, especially, the temptation to tip out a few more chips, chop extra veg or throw in a extra handful of rice can be almost uncontrollable - what can I say? I have zero willpower.

It's often not until I'm dishing up onto a reasonable sized plate that I realise at best I have a man sized portion, at worst I've cooked for two, or four, or ten! My ex-husband ate big meals so I became accustomed to cooking quite large amounts even for just the two of us, and try as I might I just can't curb that trait.

I used to worry far more about my weight. My husband had a tendency to be brutally honest (excuse me for a moment as I laugh at the irony of that), and wouldn't hesitate to mention if he thought I was getting fat - for my 'own good' you understand - so I worked hard at keeping my waistline under control. I was often fighting a losing battle as I have an under-active thyroid, and am on medication for other conditions that can cause weight gain. Double whammy. Needless to say I was often miserable and fixated on the flab much more than I probably needed to. I can look back at photo's of that time and think wow I looked great, but the truth is I felt fat. To my mind at least, there was always a few more pounds to lose.

These days I'm much more comfortable in my skin. I don't fixate on the numbers on the scales and I know one man's idea of what was 'fat' is not necessarily someone else's. I've accepted that a combination of health issues means my weight can yo-yo, but as long as I feel good, as long as I'm as healthy as I can be, then that's fine. And I've learnt that looking good is more about attitude than dress size.

That said I was still more than a little gutted when last week I had to buy clothes in yet a bigger size!

Fortunately for me there are a few very good charity shops in Liskeard that, so far at least, haven't succumbed to the national trend of sky high prices. My favourite sells all its clothing at £2 an item, this means they have a good turnover of stock as things aren't hanging around for weeks on end as in many other charity shops, so there is always plenty of choice. I invested in a few versatile pieces that will work with the clothes I have that do still fit. £12 well spent for comfortable clothes and a boost of confidence, but I don't want to be wearing them for long. This extra weight I'm carrying is taking its toll on my back and hip and I'm increasingly out of breath so it has to go.

I can't do much about the health conditions that affect my weight, that's just something I have to work with/around, but I can make sure my diet is healthy and I can work on those portion sizes. I need to lose at least a stone (14lb) to get back to a weight that doesn't cause me pain so somehow I need to master this 'cooking for one' lark.

Any tips?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Wonky Veg and Waste

In the news today is this move by Asda to introduce 'wonky veg boxes' in 128 of its stores. I don't know about you but I couldn't care less what my veg looks like, taste and value for money are far more important to me. According to Asda buying a box of wonky veg is 30% cheaper than paying for prettier versions of the same items.

Of course its only saving you money if you are actually going to use the veg. The big drive behind these boxes is to cut down on waste but only a small proportion of the UK's food waste comes from supermarkets - most goes into our own bins at home, with salad vegetables being some of the most likely to end up being thrown away. It can only be good news that our supermarkets are addressing waste but we have to do our part too and use what we buy.

It's a great initiative but with only limited stores involved so far, and small numbers of boxes available in each store, is it enough? Will this help with your weekly shop? I'd struggle to bring a box like that back on the bus, even if a store near me stocked them. What are your views? I'd love to know.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Bits and Bobs of What I'm Up To.

Yesterday was exhausting. I'm coming to dread Wednesdays as that's the day I sign on. It's not that I mind visiting the job centre, the staff at the Liskeard branch are friendly and helpful, but although they do their best to fit my appointment around the limited bus service available to me I'm often out all day for the sake of a ten minute sign on. It's very frustrating. Yesterday my appointment time was after the last bus back so I had to catch a bus to a nearby village and walk the last 3 1/2 miles. I don't usually mind the walk but I'd got shopping to bring home, it was particularly cold and my hip has been causing me some pain for the last few days so the walk took much longer than usual. I was a bit fed up when I finally got in, a whole 7 hours after I'd left home.

So what does the future hold? Obviously I'm job hunting - which isn't easy when one lives in a tiny village with a pretty lousy bus service, but also talking with my employment adviser about other options. That's partly why I'm coming back to blogging.

Last week the job centre sent me on a course that, lets be honest here, I really didn't want to do. It seemed a bit of a waste of time to me, especially as the lack of buses meant they were paying for a taxi home for me each day. It was a bit disheartening to know JC+ were spending more on my travel than I actually get to live on for a week. To add insult to injury the course was to include subjects like 'managing your money' and 'cooking on a budget'. FFS! I can do that! But you know what? I loved it. Dammit!I wanted to be able to complain about the waste of resources and how my time would have been better spent actually looking for a job but, thanks to the fabulous guys at Active Plus who ran the course, I finished the week feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time.

We had advice from ECCABI (East Cornwall Citizens Advice Bureau Initiative) on budgeting and banking, which was far more interesting than I imagined, and spending a morning in the kitchen with Sanjay from the School of Cornish Sardines, even though gnocchi and smoked mackerel aren't entirely to my taste, was fun and got the creative juices flowing. It made me realise I actually miss writing my blog. It's great coming up with new recipes and stretching my budget yet still eating well, but if I keep that to myself it loses something. I was shocked at some of the figures ECCABI gave us, on the numbers of children living in poverty in Cornwall, of how many parents go hungry so their children can eat, and most disturbingly of all how many teachers report children fainting during the day from hunger!

It is possible to eat well on a small budget and if the things I write encourage even one person then I've achieved something. This is 2016, none of us should be going hungry.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

I'm Back!

It's been a while... a long, long while but I finally feel like it's time to get get back into blogging.

A lot has changed. My husband walked out, I've moved to a smaller place in a quieter location and after battling with health issues over the last year I'm now managing on my own. I've recently been switched from ESA to JSA, despite having a sick note that still covered me for another few months...but hey that non-medical decision maker obviously knows more than my doctor! That's OK though, ultimately I've never wanted to be stuck in the benefit system anyway and it's forced me to address some things. It piled on extra stress at a time I really didn't need it, but I'll make the best of it because y'know, that's what I do.

I might make a few changes to my blog, maybe change the layout and make it a bit brighter. Coming back to it after so long I thought how depressing it was to look at, very dark and dismal, which probably reflected my mood and outlook very well when I began but onward and upwards..

I've already been through and deleted many of the posts about my ex-husband. I haven't got rid of every reference to him because as much as we might like to sometimes, we can't sanitise our lives. However he was never entirely comfortable with me 'broadcasting our problems to the world', which was why I chose to write under a pseudonym, so to avoid any potential future problems I've just cut him out wherever it was reasonable to do so. I've given it some thought and I'll still use that pseudonym though. Not because I have anything to hide but because I like Hope and it does have a personal meaning to me. Some of you do know my 'real' name and that's fine. Who knows, maybe one day I'll get brave and even post pics of me. We'll see...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Feeding the 5,000 with Three Chicken Breasts

OK, so I may be exaggerating a bit there, I don't think even I could stretch a few chicken breasts far enough to feed thousands, but I did feed two hungry adults an evening meal for four days with them so that's almost as good in my book.

I'm quite a fan of the bags of frozen Smart Price/Value/M savers chicken breasts (I chop and change my supermarket depending on which is most convenient at the time). You get 1kg for £4, give or take a penny or two and they cook really nicely.

Of course I'd rather buy a free range chicken, but I can't afford that and if the truth be known my husband cannot be trusted around chicken. He loves it. Cook a whole one and he'd devour it as soon as my back was turned, picking cold chicken off the bone until there was nothing left. So these frozen chicken breasts are ideal as I can just defrost as much as I need and there's nothing for naughty little big fingers to pinch later.

Last weekend I was starting to panic a little over food, or the lack of it. Hubby had been ill and I hadn't been able to get to do the shopping, which meant I'd ended up having to buy bits and bobs to see us through at the co-op or Spar and my pennies simply don't go as far there as they do at somewhere like Asda or Morrisons. That's when I discovered I still had three chicken breasts in the freezer that I didn't know about. (I should probably point out that my tired, old freezer makes so much ice that the polar ice caps aren't really in any danger, I can ship out replacements anytime. This means often a drawer ices up to the point it's impossible to open without hacking at it like a thing possessed so whatever is lurking in said drawer gets forgotten about for a while).

The sudden discovery of chicken was a delight, and enabled us to have a roast dinner last Sunday for the first time since Christmas. The thing with these frozen chicken breasts is it's pretty hit and miss what size they are. Sometimes the bag is full of several rather small breasts, other times you may only get four but they are so big I'm left wondering if they've actually come from an ostrich rather than a chicken. Most of the time its a mix, so I had one large, one medium and one tiny breast in my cooking arsenal.

I trimmed the medium sized breast so I had two small ones to cook for our Sunday dinner, and saved the trimmings and large breast in the fridge. The portions may have been a bit on the small side, but most of us eat too much meat anyway and by the time I'd made a mountain of roast potatoes (some taken out early to freeze), stuffing balls, roasted onions, and plenty of veg we certainly didn't notice that the meat portion was a little mean (Roast spuds are the best bit anyway).

I had made a sponge pudding too, but we were much too stuffed to even attempt that!

The next day I diced the remaining chicken and put it in the slow cooker with plenty of sliced onions, and whatever veg I'd got going over in the cupboard or fridge (several carots, a tomato, a few mushrooms and half a red pepper) along with a 36p chicken casserole mix. I'm not a big fan of mashed potato but hubby loves it and would eat it until it was coming out of his ears, so I served some of the chicken and most of the veg with a mountain of mash.

Another very filling meal. Two down, two to go.

So what to do now? I've got chicken in gravy. Add a couple of spoonful's of frozen peas and a can of sweetcorn and serve with home made potato wedges. Delicious.

Hmmm, not much left now, but there is still quite a bit of gravy, a few pieces of chicken and a little bit of veg. Soup it is then. I added chicken stock, more onion, a clove of garlic and the remains of  a bag of frozen veg that neither of us liked very much, salt and pepper to taste, and blitzed in the blender. I have to say it wasn't the most attractive colour, BUT served with home made soda bread it was very tasty and extremely filling.

So there you have it. Eight servings from three chicken breasts. And despite using just chicken, veg and potatoes for the most part, not boring at all. Each meal was very different from the last. Not bad going if I say so myself!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Just My Luck!

I finally admitted defeat and put the central heating on an hour ago (yes, I know I said I wasn't going to until December but I'm blooming freezing).

We had about 20 minutes of glorious, wonderful, toasty warmness.....

.......... and the bloody gas ran out!!!

No heating until tomorrow and hmmmmm, maybe we won't be having sausage and mash tonight after all.

Oh well, cheese and pickle cobs for tea it is then. I loathe electric cookers but at times like this they look more appealing.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Have YOU Turned Your Heating On Yet?

Well have you? Have the dark nights and frosty mornings prompted you to light the fire or turn on the central heating? Or, like me, are you still stubbornly refusing to give in to the chill and simply donning extra clothes and digging out that trusty old hot water bottle? - Although in our case 'trusty' isn't the word as 'old faithful' sprung a leak a few nights ago when hubby was using it to ease his back pain (thankfully it was wrapped in a towel at the time, preventing him from being scalded by the hot water) and we've had to invest in a new one this week.

Throughout October, as it began to get colder and the evenings became quite chilly, I adamantly insisted I wasn't putting the central heating on (our only form of heat) until the calendar turned the page and November was well and truly here. Of course with November's arrival I moved the goal posts, scared by the rising gas prices, and vowed it wasn't going on until December. When December rolls around who knows.... will I be brave (or daft) enough to say lets wait until January?

To be honest with you I haven't been cold. Not really. Chilly, yes, but not properly cold. I certainly haven't sat here shivering of an evening and once I'm in bed, snuggled up under the duvet I'm actually quite cosy. My husband's felt the cold more, but I invested in a £3 fleecy throw from ASDA and since he's had that to tuck around his legs, or even sometimes wrap around his shoulders like a big cosy shawl, he's been as warm as toast. It's certainly proved cheaper than feeding the hungry gas meter. I think I'll get another one.
We close the curtains as soon as it starts to get dark, keeping as much heat into our south facing lounge as possible, and have a draft excluder at the door. We focus on keeping that one room as warm as we can. We both have thermals from our working days. I worked outdoors all the time and quickly learnt the trick of layering, and hubby often had to work outdoors too so we invested in decent thermal garments because a) we could afford to and b) they were worth their weight in gold. They still are. We haven't worn them much yet, we'll appreciate them much more when the temperature really drops.
Early nights and late mornings are another way we stay warm. That's not as lazy as staying in bed late sounds, honest, although it feels quite decadent sometimes. Emails, letters, sewing projects etc can all be done just as easily in bed and warm under the duvet as they can up and about and shivering in a chair. Winter just means a bit of a rethink of our routines. I might not like doing things this way but I know when we finally have to give in and start putting extra money on the gas meter that money has got to come from somewhere, and the thing most likely to be hit is the food budget. I'd rather not do that, so I'll use every trick in the book to keep us warm for as long as possible without increasing the gas company's profits.
I'll often go for a brisk walk if I'm starting to feel the chill, up the hill to the cliffs and back is enough to warm me up for ages. It's just a shame that isn't an option for my husband too. I'd love to be able to go for a long walk with him but he can't manage it at a pace to warm him up and the pain is just too much when it's cold and damp.
I haven't yet resorted to wearing gloves and hats around the flat, but there's a first time for everything. I'm not ruling anything out.